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Gruen transfer (en.wikipedia.org)
105 points by edward 9 months ago | hide | past | web | 58 comments | favorite

These two phrases from the brief article seem like they're at odds with each other, no?

  "surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout"

  "providing a sense of safety and calm through exceptional familiarity"

Imagine a house, where every room is familiar, but you have to get to the master bedroom through the hall closet and the front door leads you right into the bathroom.

Wow, even that sentence confused me.

Doesn't sound contradictory to me. When I go through a hedge maze I feel both safe and confused.

I wasn't commenting on confusing vs. safe so much as confusing vs. familiar.

I think you often have both.

Ask anyone who's ever had a job with a bunch of corporate bureaucracy but also felt familiar and comfortable enough with their ability to navigate it that they were hesitant to leave.

You don't feel safe "through exceptional familiarity" though.

I don't think so. You can have something where every part/the immediate surroundings are familiar, but the overall layout is confusing.

Casinos work hard to impose the same effect.

If you've watched the show The Americans, you probably recall the scene of Nina's execution, and that was based on real life practice: walk the condemned through a twisty corridor with lots of turns to disorient them so it doesn't dawn on them that the purpose of the walk is their killing.

Meanwhile, architects are working on facilities for elderly people with dementia, and trying to impose the exact opposite: provide the patients with visual cues to keep them as oriented as feasible.

>Meanwhile, architects are working on facilities for elderly people with dementia, and trying to impose the exact opposite: provide the patients with visual cues to keep them as oriented as feasible.

...while keeping them from wandering into places they shouldn't be wandering into.

I had a story told to me at a training about a facility that put up stop signs on doors they wanted people to not wander in to. They neglected to consider that (after stopping and checking for cross traffic) one typically proceeds on their way when they encounter a stop sign.

How about software.. Open up a program or website... You lose original purpose of being there instead mindlessly browsing

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike" as it says in the classics ...

Here's an excellent episode of an excellent podcast about this:


I'm not sure about the Gruen Effect, but can verify the Doorway Effect is real.


This is almost like paged memory with faulty cache write-back.

Interesting! I'd also wonder if it has something to do with surrounding sensing. When you enter a room you briefly orient yourself and check for tigers hiding behind the window curtains, when remaining in the same room your mind is just checking diffs while entering a new room might cause the mind to throw away everything it had established and re-scan for danger. That'd be something I'd be curious to eliminate as a possible reason for the effect.

Props to the man for not wanting to cooperate.

Is there a word for 'the Ikea effect'?

AKA showing you everything and forcing you to waste your time rather than just allowing you to quickly target the one thing you came for. Exponentially made worse depending on how many people are present in your party.

Oh come on, Ikea allows you to go directly to the warehouse, use a computer to locate the thing you're after and get lost. It also has maps and shortcuts to get you directly to the department you're after. Costco, on the other hand...

Oh, com on, IKEA"s are deliberately designed as a maze. Yes, there are 'semi-hidden shortcut passages' and maps, both required by the fire department, but they also are deliberately obfuscated. The name of the maze game seems to be maximizing impulse buying, not just by forced exposure, but also gamed to the psychological effect that when on the threshold you will grab it 'now' anyway as you will never find your way back, and once in the cart 'dumping' it again in an 'inappropriate' place is something most people don't do.

IKEA has an almost Disney-esque level of "magic" and ability to become an expert in negotiating their space while pleasurably manipulating casual shoppers. IKEA can be a super efficient experience if you're in the know but it takes a bit of work - I suspect this actually endears them to both types of shopper, and anyone who sees through it and hates it stays away.

The shortcuts are signposted, and maps are available to take with you at the entrance - no other big box store does that, so I doubt it has anything to do with fire departments. Impulse buys greatly benefit from immediate commitment, so Ikea does a good job of not having pesky sales assistants everywhere. You have plenty of time to cool off about that silly table till you get to the warehouse.

Costco's warehouses are mainly laid out for efficiency. There's an open area in the middle and tall racking around the edges. They make no special effort to make their stores easy to navigate, but they aren't trying to confuse either - their stores are laid out primarily for the benefit of forklift drivers, not customers.

Ikea's showroom has a deliberately serpentine layout. There are direct routes from A to B, but those routes are through hidden doorways. Some of those doorways are marked on the store plan, but they're not clearly signposted. There are navigational markings on the floor, but they only denote one route through - the route that Ikea want you to take.

Costco's lack of "in this aisle" placards at the ends of the aisles is where I think they step over the line from "efficiency" to "deliberate confusion".

Most Costco’s I go to have food stuffs on one aisle and appliances/non-food related consumables on the opposite side. I never even bother to go to the appliance side.

I still thinks it’s setup for efficiency purposes, or at least their perceived efficiency, rather than psychological queues towards the customer.

Even the stuff when you walk in is based on the monthly rebates.

They do, but psychologically they design the shops so that you get lost and see a lot of 'impulse-buy' sensitive items before you even get to the place you want to be.

There is an IKEA effect, but it describes something else.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IKEA_effect :

    The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.

In the specific case of IKEA, I'm skeptical because an important feature of IKEA self assemble furniture is that it is easy to transport. Transporting a fully assembled Kallax 5x5 shelving unit from point of purchase to my upstairs would require solving a meaningful number of logistical challenges or paying for delivery. Even getting a Poang chair into my vehicle at the loading dock is an uncertain topological puzzle. The value proposition of Ikea furniture includes trading the uncertain labor of transporting bulky furniture for the certain labor of modular transport and simple assembly. Going further, the economics of end user assembled furniture tends to result in lower prices because the retailer has reduced bulk for stock on hand and reduced shipping costs (at scale, bulk has more impact on shipping cost than weight most of the time).

“The moving sofa problem or sofa problem is a two-dimensional idealisation of real-life furniture-moving problems and asks for the rigid two-dimensional shape of largest area A that can be maneuvered through an L-shaped planar region with legs of unit width.[1] The area A thus obtained is referred to as the sofa constant. The exact value of the sofa constant is an open problem.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_sofa_problem

Familiar to some of us from Douglas Adams' _Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency_.

Especially because that one involved some trapdoor math.

That's a good find. It goes a lot further than just furniture though, any kind of investment could be subject to that. Religion, team affiliation, political leanings, and brands selected for items purchased all suffer from a sunk cost identification issue that seems to be closely related to this. As soon as you put any effort into something you are more than likely to think it is good because otherwise you'd have to admit to yourself you made a mistake and your effort was wasted.

I don’t know if there’s a specific term, but it’s pretty basic design in pretty much any retail store. In grocery stores, they put high-intent items like milk in the very back. In grocery stores and convenience stores, the checkout area is filled with low-cost (and presumably high-margin) products (like snacks) that are likely to be impulse buys.

You can skip all of that and just go for what you want, but, that's not why you'd go to ikea - if you know what you want you could also order it online. You go to ikea for a few hours of browsing and being impressed with room design and such.

And for the hot dogs. Don't forget the hot dogs.

I thought it was the meatballs.

Sure, that's the more recognizable special food at IKEA. But I guess I prefer simple foods to the fancy ones.

Hotdogs in IKEA, even though cheap and small, are a perfection of form. They're made of exactly four ingredients: bun, sausage, ketchup and mustard. Just the four ingredients that matter. No dumping half of the vegetable garden inside because too simple food is a sin and you must repent by eating grass. Only the pure essence of a hotdog, perfect in the de Saint-Exupery sense - there is nothing left to take away.

And yes, they're cheap, that means you can get more perfection for a dollar.

YMMV, but when I go, I walk in through the cash register area directly into warehouse and can usually get what I want in short order. Sadly, checking out still takes forever though. I don’t get why stores have 40+ checkout lanes and only ever have a few open, even during peak shopping season.

That's to give you some more time for that impulse buy near the register.

Wow, I have been in Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota many times throughout my early life but never knew of Victor Gruen. It does feel comfortable in a way, and I don't even like malls. Southdale is still a very high-end mall.

Gruen wanted Southdale to be the nucleus around which to build a European style Aldstadt (town center). The parking around Southdale was where he was intending to design apartment houses.

That's why Southdale has a feel to it that subsequent malls don't.

"Altstadt" means "Old Town", which in many Germanophone cities also coincides with the "Zentrum" or city centre. But it specifically implies the presence of medieval or baroque-era buildings, not the kind of thing you just throw together on the periphery of a suburban mall in Minnesota...

Gruen did not intend to throw together anything.

Argh that's depressing.

I don't frequent malls that often and it's due to the fact that I'm generally on foot, the sea of parking lots usually destroy any incentive I have to go to a mall and any time I've seen a mall embedded in residential zoning I'm quite fond of it.

I still prefer having spliced zoning though, either NYC style with residences over commercial or by intermingling them laterally (i.e. shop-front, shop-front, apartment, shop-front, apartment) which would make a pretty awesome mall actually.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Westminster_station (there are currently two residential towers in the station, a third being added)

I don't get it, looks like the Wikipedia definition is not congruent:

"...the Gruen transfer (also known as the Gruen effect) is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall or store and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout..."

A bit below:

"...is realized by deliberate reconstruction, providing a sense of safety and calm through exceptional familiarity."

Can a confusing layout cause exceptional familiarity? or what am I missing here?

There is a show on the national broadcaster in Australia that literally just deals with this.

Do you mean the Gruen transfer? It’s just a show about advertising in general, not the Gruen transfer effect itself.

You are correct that TV programmed isn't so much specifically about the effect as such but about the whole way advertising, marketing and the like is pervasive in aiming to convince people to do things that they might not do otherwise.

The show is now called "Gruen", they dropped "transfer" for some reason.

At first I thought this HN post was publicising the TV show since a new season starts early May. Perhaps the OP is a fan of the show. It's a bit random linking to a short Wikipedia article on the Gruen Transfer? A page that happens to mention the TV show twice.

As for shopping mall design, I suppose we're not far off from pop-up holographic personalised intrusive social tracking considerations. Apparently some restaurants at least are designing their interiors to be phone-camera friendly, but also... you get the picture.

One of the only aussie shows I actually watch!

I didn't realize that there was a name for this, but this feels like every Vegas casino. They also do lots of other tricky things, like not generally allowing windows or having clocks on the wall.

Completely agree (and came here just to say the same thing).

When I last stayed in a casino's hotel (the late '90s I think), there also weren't clocks in the rooms (but at least there was Kino on TV). Being an east-coaster and an early-riser, I went downstairs looking for breakfast at about 0330 or 0400. It always amazed me at how narrow the entryway and exit were ... you could easily get in but the exit was disguised and who's going to see a lighted exit sign in a room full of other flashing lights?

Wow, this is like facebook IRL! Draw them in with a specific goal (like reading a message in a chat), then confuse them until they don't know what they wanted to do, and are unable to leave... :P

Is there a name for the equivalent techniques used to homogenize local television news and make it so domestic and familiar?

That's called "happy talk": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_talk

It was invented in the late 1960s by a guy named Al Primo, who came up with it as part of a broader reinvention of the local news show format he undertook while working at KYW-TV in Philadelphia. This new format (called "Eyewitness News": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyewitness_News) replaced the traditional format of a newsreader reading stories from a desk into segments oriented around video from the scene of the story. The newsreader became the news anchor, providing the links that tied the various field segments together.

The old newsreaders had always been presented in a dour, serious way, since they were telling stories that could be very serious indeed. But in the Eyewitness News format, they weren't telling those stories directly anymore; that had been passed to the correspondents in the field, with anchors now serving as a kind of tour guide. That meant their old super-serious presentation didn't really fit them anymore; people wanted the new anchors to be more approachable, more relatable. Primo figured out that adding a bit of light, upbeat banter between them accomplished this very effectively, and "happy talk" was born.

The new format was a huge hit; KYW surged to the top of the local ratings, and Al Primo got hired to run news programming at the ABC Network's national flagship, WABC-TV in New York City. He took the Eyewitness News format with him, and within in a few years it was being copied by stations all over the country.

(Interestingly, the other big format for local news -- "Action News" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_News), which took the Eyewitness News format and tightened it into shorter, faster-moving segments fronted by younger anchors -- came out of the Philadelphia market as well. Local station WFIL-TV originated it in an effort to stay competitive with the surging success of KYW and Eyewitness News.)

If hacking is illegal, then why isn't hacking into the mind?

“Inner space is no longer a neat literary metaphor for alienation. Thanks to mobile technology, it has become virtual real estate”


Many more shopping malls started opening using similar designs and were very popular until the 1990s.

"Until the 1990s"(!) :-) Try a modern Westfield mall. They're usually rammed full of people and doing crazy levels of business, based around a similar approach.

Tell me about it. I entered this IKEA three months ago. I hope to some day find my way out.

Time to read up on SCP-3008[1], hopefully some hints in there on how to survive. Good luck.

[1] http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-3008

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